I wonder what she thinks about stroke after stroke. She’s told people she has a 60-hour playlist in her head of favorite tunes from ‘her generation.’ Being of her generation, I wonder what’s on the list – Stones or Beatles, Motown or Beachboys? She’s reputed to have a pretty good voice and certainly a good memory. Sixty hours is a long time but even 60 hours worth of inside singing isn’t going to get her to Key West.
So I wonder what Diana Nyad thinks about. Does she think about the deep? About creatures that are swimming down there and looking up at her slow, plodding stroke. It doesn’t make her crazy to wonder what outsized sea beast might be looking at her, sizing her up, or brushing past her in the night? I once went on a family snorkeling trip off Key Largo where the water was so choppy, a few people vomited, the floating by picture of which can still make me queasy. Even with a life jacket, my normal swimming bravado disappeared to the point that my 11-year old son, swam over, and took my hand. “Come on, Mom, we’ll swim together.”
I may be unusually impressed by what Diana Nyad has done and is doing, pray that she doesn’t have to quit before this post is written. I’m awed by the incredible level of physical and mental toughness that she is showing. That she would be stung four times by jellyfish and then turn over and do the backstroke is an astonishing display of grit above and beyond any other physical feat I can think of. Swimming through a stiff chop in a storm at night after already having swum 24 hours — is there some athletic challenge greater than that?
The lore is that the hardest sports feat of all is hitting a ball thrown by a major league pitcher. Maybe so. But a guy can get off the bench, spit a wad of chaw on the ground, hitch up his pants and make the sign of the cross, swing at a fastpitch, hit a home run, jog the bases, and go back to his buddies – all in less than 60 seconds. Then he’s done back sitting on the bench with his good buds. Later, he can take his glove and go polish his sunglasses in the outfield. Every once in a while there’s a burst of brilliance, a fielding play that is astonishing and fabulous. But mostly it’s a lot of standing around, baseball is. Really.
Old Diana’s not standing anywhere though and she won’t be until Tuesday sometime. She’s going to be in the ocean with that plodding stroke, 50 a minute, stopping now and then to eat some peanut butter. She’s trained herself to keep that stroke, to sing those songs, to not look down and not be scared or maybe to be scared but to not let the fear crowd out the songs in her head. She probably also trained her self to trust her handlers, believe the shark guys will fend off the sharks and the anti-jellyfish lady has her act together. Trust on that level, to me anyway, is kind of a major feat. Me, I’d be poking my head up out of the water every 30 seconds to make sure the shark-spotters weren’t chatting over a cup of coffee or checking their Blackberries.
When I look at the videos posted on Diana Nyad’s Facebook page — her swimming between two kayaks – stroke, stroke, stroke, I realize that it’s been a very long time since I’ve had the feeling of hero worship. But I am certainly having it now. There haven’t been all that many hero(ine)es for women of my generation — lucky to find one at this late age.